By jaynemeth March 17, 2011

(2006) The completion of the visitor's pavilion at the Ringling Museum of Art has an added benefit few of us were expecting: Treviso, which might just be the best restaurant in town. This place is so terrific that by the time the Venetian-style shrimp and polenta arrived, I started pinching myself.

Treviso is a nod to the Italian province where the Asolo Theater originated, the food is an amalgam of Italian regional cooking. Nothing at the unassuming entrance in the far corner of the pavilion prepares you for the clean lines and contemporary design in the restaurant. The west wall spills sunlight into the room, emphasizing the rich umber color dominating the kitchen wall. The ceiling soars, but the space is tempered by views of the museum grounds and the new Tibbals Learning Center. It’s a wonderful stage for the innovative food.

The bruschetta is an excellent place to begin. The white plate arrives at table looking more like a still life than an appetizer. Three piles of beautiful toppings to smear on the rustic bread are crowned with a large, aromatic sprig of thyme, announcing the savory character of the dish. Tuscan bean tapenade takes the unassuming cannellini bean to a brave new territory, where oregano and pepper add sly spiciness. An eggplant relish is remarkable, with usually lackluster vegetable diced into firm, tasty little cubes.

Peasant bread salad is another star performer. We loved its mix of tastes and textures: roasted and fresh vegetables, salty sun-dried tomato and cured olives and rich smoked mozzarella cheese and salami. A generous portion of bread completes the dish, all tossed with the lightest of vinaigrettes.

Chicken salad is more traditional luncheon fare, here transformed into a Mediterranean feast with a dollop of spicy artichoke relish and accompanied by a well prepped rotini with sun-dried tomato. The chicken is sprinkled with toasted pecans and lies next to slices of foccacia.

While the number of entrées is relatively small—a trio of pastas and a grilled tuna dish—the execution is huge. Fabulous-looking plates march out of the kitchen, satisfying the senses. The polenta wedges served with our Venetian-style shrimp were a flavorful juxtaposition to the elegant sauce, rich yet light with a hint of lemon. The grilled shrimp weighed in somewhere in the middle.

Desserts don’t disappoint. Of course, there is the requisite tiramisu, light and creamy.  A friend describes the amaretto cheesecake as “amore” on a fork. We pounced on the tartufo, that ice cream and chocolate concoction with its center of cloyingly sweet cherries. Molto bene.

And we vowed to come back some afternoon to enjoy the terribly chic little wine bar.

Fine dining establishments in museums are the rage right now, and Sarasota’s snazzy new Treviso puts us right on the cutting edge. My only disappointment is that it’s not open for dinner!

Treviso Restaurant

5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL 34243

(941) 360-7390

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